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Fanfiction: Truth Hurts - Part II

For disclaimers and author's note see Part I.

 

Truth Hurts Continued


Jack arranged for temporary quarters and made his way to his assigned room tiredly. He kicked off his boots and lay down on the bed without bothering to undress. He closed eyes, weary to the bone and his head beginning to pound with the hangover he’d had upon first waking hours before on Edora. He needed sleep but his body refused to cooperate.

He opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling. God, Sam must think he was a complete jerk. It was no wonder she’d gone to bed rather than wait for him to drag his sorry ass back from Hammond’s office. He placed his hands behind his head. His mind travelled back over events. He’d hurt her when he’d walked off, Jack realised, even if Daniel was right and she had understood about Laira – and that was an uncomfortable thought; he wasn’t sure he’d wanted Sam knowing about Laira exactly. Sam’s head had been down when he’d rejoined the group and her face had lost its animation, he remembered. Daniel had chatted all the way to the gate; she had been quiet. No doubt she’d assumed he didn’t want to hear anything more from her the way he’d just left her hanging.

He sighed. He’d find her in the morning; make it up to her somehow. It didn’t sit right with him that he’d hurt her in trying to lessen the hurt he’d caused Laira. His eyes closed briefly again at the thought of the Edoran woman. She hadn’t deserved for him to walk away from her either.

Jack turned over, pushing his face into the pillow and closing his eyes tightly. He had been attracted to Laira even before the fire-rain, and her attraction to him had been obvious enough that he’d indulged in some mild flirting. He hadn’t seriously entertained it going any further. His love for Sam was futile given their military relationship and the small issue of her not feeling the same way, and he might have acknowledged before Edora that he needed to move on, but getting involved with a woman off-world hadn’t been in his plans. He wasn’t entirely certain when he’d changed his mind.

Laira’s friendship had sustained him during his time on Edora; he believed that wholeheartedly. He dismissed her early hospitality and defence of him amongst her community as gratitude and guilt; she was too good a woman to have seen anyone left out in the cold following such a disaster never mind someone she felt responsible for getting stuck there. Equally, she had made it clear he was expected to work for his keep. In a way that relieved him; he didn’t feel beholden to her for that part of it, at least. Perhaps she had known he would have eventually grown uncomfortable at the charity she had extended in putting a roof over his head and food in his belly. No, for that part of it, his conscience could rest easy. The rest of it though…

The first time she had come to him and talked with him about her own grief at the river, he hadn’t really wanted to listen. Jack had been too caught up in his own misery and the sudden wrenching anxiety that maybe his team hadn’t made it home. He’d walked with her to be polite. It had become a regular activity; around lunch she’d come to the fields with some food for him and the others, and invariably most of the time they’d end up away from the rest and would finish their meal with a walk. At first, she would talk but gradually over the days he found himself sharing stuff from his own life with her; Sara and Charlie, how he’d met Daniel, anecdotes about some of the missions: nothing too deep or too personal but enough that it had cemented the friendship between them.

He’d always known Laira wanted more and he had carefully maintained a certain amount of distance for a long while…until one day he had realised he hadn’t been back to the site of the Stargate for four whole days. After that, with his growing acceptance that he was stuck, that he wouldn’t be going home, he’d let himself slide into a relationship with her, Jack mused. They’d started courting; holding hands when they walked, small touches as they passed each other, tentative kisses and meaningful looks. He had enjoyed the feeling of having someone care for him; being able to care for them openly. He had known it was only a matter of time before she had invited him to her bed and he’d looked forward to it. The party with its less than subtle matchmaking and Garan’s absence had provided her with an opportunity.

Jack shifted onto his back again. He had known by accepting her invitation, it was a prelude to marriage – the mention of a baby by her confirming that. He had almost changed his mind when she’d said it. He wasn’t really sure he wanted to be a father again as much as he missed being one and he had enjoyed his status as a father figure to Garan, but then he hadn’t had to worry about the discipline side of it. He had no idea what he would do if Laira was pregnant.

It hadn’t been the only thing to give him pause either. Her comment that she had seen him realise he belonged on Edora that night had startled him. Sure, he’d had a good time at the party; it had been the first time he’d truly felt they considered him a part of the community rather than a stranger they simply tolerated but in truth he still hadn’t felt like he was one of them. He’d been unsettled enough to warn Laira that a part of him was never going to let go of Earth, of his past. Jack frowned. Her reply that she didn’t want that part; maybe that should have set warning bells ringing – if he’d been thinking with his brain instead of his libido.

She’d pushed him a little on it, he realised, with the suggestion of throwing out his old uniform. He’d given into it because he hadn’t wanted to upset her; had wanted to show her he was committed to her after their night together but…in hindsight, he was beginning to wonder if the fact she would never have accepted that he would have always yearned a little for his past, the fact that he would have always yearned a little for his past despite his comfortable life with her, whether that wouldn’t have ultimately made them both miserable in the long term. Jack sighed. He guessed he didn’t have to worry about that anymore.

He stared into the darkness. The truth was he was going to miss Laira and the other Edorans he had lived with for the past three months and a part of him regretted the loss of the simple life he’d lived there; the respite from the fight against the Goa’uld. But the fact was that he pleased and thankful to be home and with his team…he just needed to make things right with Sam…

It was his final thought as he slipped into sleep.

o-O-o

‘Colonel O’Neill.’

Jack grimaced in his sleep at the insistent high voice. Who the hell was that and what the hell were they doing in his room? He opened his eyes grumpily. They landed on a familiar small grey figure. He blinked. The Asgard looked back at him with wide black eyes curiously. Jack rubbed the sleep from his eyes and checked again.

Yep. Still, one Asgard standing beside his bed. He sat up. ‘Thor.’ He greeted the alien cautiously.

‘It is I, O’Neill.’ Thor confirmed.

‘Nice to see you.’ Jack glanced at his watch and was relieved to see he’d managed almost had six hours of sleep. ‘How are you doing?’

Thor blinked at him. ‘I am well, O’Neill.’

‘Excellent.’ Jack replied.

They looked at each other in silence for a long moment.

Jack sighed. ‘So what brings you by?’

‘A matter of great urgency.’ Thor responded. ‘We have recently observed a number of thefts on the worlds protected by the Asgard.’

‘Thefts?’ Jack queried, hoping it wasn’t going to take long for Thor to get to the point.

‘Of our technology.’ Thor expanded. ‘We have traced the theft back to others of your world, O’Neill.’

Jack stared at him. ‘My world? You mean here? Earth?’

‘I do.’ Thor looked at him solemnly. ‘This is a serious breach of our treaty.’

‘Thor,’ Jack began hurriedly, ‘I can assure you that no-one in my chain of command would have authorised those thefts.’ He sighed and shoved a hand through his hair. ‘Look, I’ve been away…’

‘We are aware.’ Thor interjected.

‘You are?’ Jack asked, momentarily distracted. He frowned. ‘You couldn’t have come by and picked me up from Edora, oh say, a couple of months ago?’

‘We were confident Major Carter’s efforts to recover you would be successful,’ Thor informed him, ‘and we do not typically interfere unless there is a compelling reason.’

‘Right.’ Jack muttered.

‘Had you not been recovered from Edora by your own people, be assured O’Neill that this matter is now gaining enough urgency that we would have recovered you ourselves.’

Jack looked at him in shock before he pushed the useless information aside and gestured at his visitor. ‘Thor, before I was…away, we were aware that a rogue group was operating and we were attempting to infiltrate them to shut them down.’

‘I see.’ Thor said calmly.

‘I need to speak with General Hammond and see what’s gone on while I’ve been gone.’

Thor blinked at him and a moment later, there was a flash of light. A stunned General Hammond dressed in his pyjamas and carrying a mug of what smelled like coffee, appeared at the foot of Jack’s bed.

Hammond stared at Thor for a long moment and then at Jack. The General relaxed a little. ‘Colonel. Thor.’

‘General Hammond, forgive me for bringing you here in this manner,’ Thor began, ‘Colonel O’Neill suggested your counsel was required for our discussion.’

‘On?’ Hammond prompted.

‘The rogue group, sir.’ Jack said briskly, sliding off the bed to stand in a semi-‘at ease’ position beside it. ‘Thor says there’ve been thefts from the Asgard’s protected worlds.’

Hammond sighed and turned to the alien. ‘I’m sorry to hear that, Thor, and believe me when I say that this is not the way we operate.’

‘I believe you, General Hammond, but the activities of this group cannot be allowed to continue.’ Thor replied. ‘If they are not dealt with immediately, we will have to revoke the treaty with your world.’

Leaving the planet open for a Goa’uld attack, Jack thought grimly. He exchanged an anxious look with his CO.

Hammond gestured at Thor. ‘I assure you it will be dealt with.’

‘My team and I will get right on it.’ Jack agreed.

‘Negative, O’Neill.’ Thor turned to Jack. ‘You have been absent from your world during these thefts and can be trusted; no-one else.’

‘Thor,’ Jack motioned at him exasperated, ‘believe me; my team would not be involved in this.’

‘Perhaps,’ Thor allowed, ‘but if what you say is true, an infiltration attempt is much more likely to be successful as a solo effort.’ He raised a hand as Jack went to argue. ‘I will not be swayed on this, O’Neill.’

‘You know he’s right, Colonel,’ Hammond said forcefully, ‘and we did always plan for this to be done without your team being involved.’

‘Then we are agreed.’ Thor said.

‘No, we are not.’ Jack said hurriedly. ‘I’ve done these ops before and going in without back-up is risky and dangerous.’

‘Back-up?’ Thor queried.

‘Cavalry.’ Jack explained. ‘The guys that ride in and help make sure the hero doesn’t get killed.’

Thor nodded slowly. A stone appeared in his hand and he handed it to Jack. ‘I will be your…back-up. You may use this to contact me when you have a plan.’

Jack raised his eyebrows as he fingered the stone. He sighed and looked at Hammond briefly before turning back to the Asgard. ‘Could we have a minute here, Thor?’

‘Certainly.’ Thor said. ‘I will return to my ship. I will transport General Hammond back to his home in fifteen of your Earth minutes.’

‘That should be fine.’ Hammond agreed.

Thor disappeared in another flash.

Jack pulled a face and gestured at his CO. ‘Sir…’

‘I’m sorry, Colonel,’ Hammond shook his head, ‘you heard the man…alien…’ he sighed, ‘Thor. Your team has to stay out of it.’

‘General, I’ve only just returned…’ Jack began to protest.

‘Which gives us a perfect opportunity.’ Hammond pointed out. He sat down on the edge of the bed tiredly. ‘Nobody will be surprised if you act unsettled for a while or act as though your experience has changed your previous outlook.’

Jack’s shoulders drooped. ‘Sir, it won’t be enough.’ He looked at Hammond evenly and gestured at him. ‘You’ve seen how close my team is in the way they worked to bring me home.’ And he was going to repay that by acting like a bastard – it was going to be the only way he would be able to keep them away from him, Jack thought, his heart sinking.

‘I know this will be difficult for you,’ Hammond said sympathetically, ‘but I have to tell you, it isn’t only the Asgard who are threatening to sever ties with us.’ He motioned at the Colonel. ‘I’ve had separate visits from the Tollan and the Tok’ra within the last few days.’ He gave a short, humourless laugh. ‘I had planned to tell you as soon as you were officially reinstated so we could come up with a plan.’

Jack nodded slowly; his mind was already going over various options and discarding them. Hammond waited patiently.

‘You said the Tollan came to us?’ Jack checked.

‘Yes.’ Hammond confirmed.

‘You think they would be up for a little subterfuge.’ Jack asked.

‘Maybe.’ Hammond frowned. ‘What are you thinking?’

‘Of stealing something.’ Jack admitted. ‘I need to break the trust my team has in me and gain the trust of the rogue group fast and…’

‘Actions speak louder than words.’ Hammond nodded. ‘I’ll contact the Tollan.’

‘Just before we went to Edora, Sam and Daniel had an idea about asking the Tollan if they would give us an ion cannon if they put safeguards on it so it could only be used against an approaching Goa’uld mothership. If they agreed to hear a petition, we could visit; they could refuse and I could brazenly steal something in retaliation. You could effectively fire me for the act.’ Jack said, the rest of it falling into place in his head. ‘Once I’m free, I bet you anything they’ll approach me.’

‘You find their base of operations.’ Hammond mused out loud.

‘Send for the Asgard.’ Jack finished. ‘Job done.’

‘We need to get Colonel Makepeace at the same time,’ Hammond noted, ‘and for that we need proof.’

‘So we wait until we have something on him before we bring in the Asgard.’ Jack suggested. ‘In the meantime, we make him feel comfortable.’

‘We could put him on SG1.’ Hammond waved at him. ‘They’ll be without a CO.’

‘I thought we were keeping my team out of it, sir.’ Jack pointed out, worried for them as a conversation with Makepeace drifted back to him. The marine had spoken with disrespect about each of them; Daniel, Teal’c, Sam.

‘Can you think of a better way to throw him off the scent?’ Hammond rejoined.

Jack grimaced but couldn’t come up with a reply.

‘Then it’s settled.’ Hammond said firmly. He nodded at Jack. ‘I think you should take the next week as leave. Go away somewhere; rest.’

And let the distance between him and his team start to widen, Jack mused. He knew they’d be expecting him to stay around; to spend time with them. He sighed heavily. ‘Right.’

Hammond glanced at the clock. ‘Well, time’s up. I’ll put your leave through as soon as I get to the base later but consider it done and get yourself away, Colonel.’

‘Yes, sir.’ Jack nodded and wasn’t surprised a moment later when there was a flash of light and Hammond disappeared.

Great. This was just great. What a homecoming and now he was going to have to hurt the people who had made it possible.

He sighed and threw the stone down on the bed as he sat down wearily and dropped his head into his hands.

o-O-o

Sam hovered in front of the General’s office nervously. She’d been somewhat relieved to hear from Teal’c earlier that the Colonel had taken off to parts unknown on a holiday before he resumed his duties at the SGC. She sighed. Who could blame the Colonel if he was feeling overwhelmed and wanted to get some perspective on the last three months? She could do with some herself, she thought wryly.

She acknowledged that a small part of her was a little resentful that he hadn’t even thanked her for her efforts in getting him home, and had taken off without a word, but she dismissed her feelings as more evidence that she had definitely lost the plot where the Colonel was concerned. He didn’t have to thank her; he was her CO. It was her job to get him home and she’d done it. A Major in the Air Force shouldn’t be upset at her CO’s lack of appreciation; shouldn’t even expect appreciation. All the more reason though for her to do what needed to be done. She took a deep breath and knocked loudly.

‘Come.’

She took another deep breath, straightened her shoulders and entered, closing the door behind her. She crossed the office to stand in front of the desk and waited until Hammond looked up from the report he was reading.

‘Major Carter.’ Hammond smiled at her. ‘What can I do for you?’

Sam’s mouth was dry and she hurriedly swallowed. ‘I, uh, I’d like to request a transfer, sir.’ Her heart was pounding loud in her ears as she waited for his reaction.

Hammond looked at her blankly for a long moment. ‘I’m sorry, Major,’ he said perplexed, ‘did you just request a transfer?’

‘Yes, sir.’ Sam confirmed. Her anxious blue eyes met his.

Hammond’s eyebrows shot up. ‘Why?’ He asked bluntly.

‘Well, I,’ she was grateful she had clasped her hands behind her back to prevent herself from fidgeting, ‘I…I’ve come to realise with the success of the generator project how much I miss R&D and so I…I thought, I, uh, might transfer full time to the base science staff, sir.’

Hammond continued to stare at her. He eventually sighed and waved at her to take a seat and she did reluctantly, folding her hands on her lap. ‘You want to tell me what this is really about, Sam?’

‘Really, sir,’ Sam insisted, ‘I just think that it would be best if I transferred.’

‘You love going off-world.’ Hammond contradicted her. His pale blue eyes shone with concern. ‘This isn’t like you.’

She didn’t have an answer for him.

He settled back in his chair. ‘I know,’ he began carefully, ‘the last three months have been difficult for you.’

Sam blushed and dropped her gaze.

‘Leaving Colonel O’Neill behind was the right decision.’ Hammond said softly.

‘I know that, sir.’ Sam said quietly as she assimilated the conclusion he had drawn from her request.

‘Intellectually, maybe.’ Hammond said. ‘But I can’t help but wonder whether the natural guilt about the situation hasn’t played a part in your decision-making here and isn’t making you second-guess yourself.’

Her teeth worried her lower lip as she considered whether a partial truth might suffice. ‘I don’t think I could make the same decision again, sir.’ She finally admitted. ‘At least, not where a member of SG1 is concerned.’

Comprehension dawned in his face. ‘You think you’ve gotten too close to your team-mates to make the correct command decisions?’

His kind tone almost undid her. She looked down to hide the tears that started to gather and took a breath. She could do this without falling apart. ‘I just don’t know anymore, sir.’ She managed eventually.

He gazed at her sympathetically. ‘Sam, you’re exhausted. You’ve spent three months of your life building a machine others said couldn’t be built and dealing with the absence of your team leader, an absence you have felt personally responsible for causing. You’ll forgive me if I’m blunt but I don’t think you’re thinking clearly.’

She almost smiled.

‘Look,’ Hammond leaned forward, ‘Colonel O’Neill has taken some time and I think you should do the same. In fact, I think all of SG1 should probably take some much needed vacation time. Take a week. If, when you all get back, you still want to transfer, I’ll consider it. OK?’

‘Yes, sir.’ Sam said, wondering at the mixture of relief and disappointment coursing through her.

‘Consider yourself on leave immediately, Major. I’ll leave you to inform Doctor Jackson and Teal’c.’ Hammond encouraged.

She heard the dismissal in his words and stood up. She wandered to Daniel’s office almost in a daze. He was immersed in his work, bent over his desk, muttering as he transcribed the parchment carefully laid out in front of him.

‘Daniel.’ Sam tapped him on the shoulder to get his attention.

‘Hmmm.’ Daniel looked up at her questioningly and smiled ruefully. ‘Sorry.’

‘That’s OK.’ Sam said. She waved at the document. ‘What are you working on?’

‘Oh, something SG7 brought back.’ Daniel looked at it with a rapt expression. ‘It’s fascinating really. They found it in a temple on a deserted Goa’uld planet. It details an uprising very similar to the one here with Ra. I think it may be an original source which would be just incredible.’

He smiled happily and Sam couldn’t help but smile back. ‘That’s great, Daniel.’ She touched his arm gently.

His face suddenly creased in confusion. ‘Did you need me for something?’

‘Actually, no.’ Sam said. ‘I just came to tell you that General Hammond gave us a week’s vacation.’

‘Really.’

Her lips twitched with amusement; somehow she had the feeling Daniel would be staying on the base to finish the translation.

He nudged her. ‘So what are you going to do?’

‘I don’t know.’ Sam admitted. She attempted a smile. ‘I’ve been so focused on getting the Colonel home that now he is, I’m not sure what I should be doing.’

‘It’s a little weird, don’t you think?’ Daniel said. ‘Him taking off.’

She shrugged. ‘I think the whole thing is probably weirder for the Colonel, Daniel.’ She leaned a hip against the table. ‘I mean, he finds himself suddenly stuck on Edora and just when he’s settled there, we turn up and suddenly he finds himself home again.’

Daniel gazed at her in rueful astonishment. ‘I can’t believe how understanding you are about this. I mean, you worked so hard…’

‘To bring him home, Daniel.’ Sam pointed out. ‘And he’s here.’ She gave a bittersweet smile. ‘Mission completed.’

‘But…’ Daniel stopped and Sam wondered what he had been about to say; she felt a frisson of anxiety that perhaps he’d picked up on her feelings about the Colonel.

Daniel sighed, ‘I just figured, you know, that maybe he’d want to spend some time with us.’

She rubbed his shoulder. ‘I’m sure he will when he gets back. He’s probably just, I don’t know,’ she made a vague gesture, ‘getting his head together or something.’ She looked away from the archaeologist. ‘It looked like things got a little intense on Edora for him.’

‘I guess you’re right.’ Daniel said softly.

She sighed and straightened. ‘I’d better go tell Teal’c.’

Daniel nodded. ‘Sam?’

‘Hmmm?’

‘You’re incredible, you know that, right?’

She gave him a tremulous smile and left before she could confess that she was thinking of transferring. He’d be upset when she did, she realised, and she would miss him. They’d still work together, she assured herself; they just wouldn’t be going on missions together. She felt a dull ache of regret. It wouldn’t be the same…

She headed for Teal’c’s quarters and rapped quickly on the door. Teal’c’s low voice called for her to enter and she stuck her head around it. The Jaffa sat cross-legged on the floor surrounded by candles.

‘You have a minute, Teal’c?’

His face brightened. ‘Indeed, Major Carter.’

She slipped inside the room and closed the door. ‘I just wanted to tell you that General Hammond has authorised leave for us all.’

Teal’c inclined his head in acknowledgement. ‘You will be leaving the base.’

She nodded. ‘I thought I’d head home and check on things.’ She tried a smile. ‘See if my apartment is still standing.’

He frowned. ‘Is there are a structural problem with your dwelling, Major Carter?’

She did smile at his question. ‘No, Teal’c, it’s just a phrase we use when someone hasn’t been somewhere in a long while,’ the smug look on his face suddenly clued her in, ‘and you knew that already.’ She shook her head, smiling. ‘Funny.’

‘You seem preoccupied by something, Major Carter.’ Teal’c noted.

She shrugged, trying not to wilt under his scrutiny. ‘I just have some things I need to work out.’

Teal’c raised an eyebrow. ‘May I be of assistance?’

She hesitated, torn for a moment on whether to confide in the Jaffa but finally shook her head. ‘I think I have to work this one out for myself, Teal’c, but thanks.’

He bowed his head in understanding.

Sam murmured a goodbye and left him to his meditation. So, she mused wryly, as she stood uncertainly in the corridor, what was she going to do with her vacation, and more importantly, what was she going to do afterwards?

o-O-o

‘So what’s going on?’ Jack said breezily as he took the chair next to Sam. Daniel and Teal’c sat across the briefing room table from them. He had barely been back on the base for ten minutes, had barely had time to change before the summons to report had come through.

‘Not sure, sir.’ Sam replied. Their chairs were close enough that his elbow nudged her arm and he savoured the innocent contact even as he outwardly schooled his features to show a complete lack of awareness of their closeness.

‘Good holiday?’ Daniel asked, not looking up from the folder he was scribbling in.

‘It was OK.’ Jack replied briefly. He’d gone fishing at his cabin in Minnesota and had spent the entire time trying not to think about the team he had left behind. It was the first time he could remember not enjoying a fishing trip there.

‘I would have thought you would have had enough peace and quiet on Edora.’ Daniel said casually, his attention on his writing.

Jack caught the edge to the statement and glared at the archaeologist. ‘My time there wasn’t exactly a picnic, Daniel.’ He motioned at him. ‘What are you doing anyway?’

‘The Tollan have agreed to hear a trade petition when we confirm the establishment of diplomatic relations with them.’ Daniel replied.

Jack was careful to show surprise even though Daniel still hadn’t looked up and Jack figured it was a clear sign how pissed the younger man was at him.

‘Trade?’ Jack asked loudly.

‘For their technology, O’Neill.’ Teal’c supplied. The Jaffa leaned back in his chair and folded his hands over his stomach.

‘Really?’ Jack coated the word with a heavy dose of sarcasm and was rewarded a moment later when Daniel finally raised his head.

‘What?’ Daniel asked crossly.

‘You really think they’re going to give us their technology?’ Jack asked.

‘General Hammond told them about our idea to build in safeguards.’ Daniel explained. ‘He said they were intrigued.’

‘And I bet you they’re still intending to say no.’ Jack shot back, stabbing the table with a finger.

‘We have to try!’ Daniel argued back passionately.

‘It’s a waste of time.’ Jack said dismissively.

‘Why?’ Daniel gestured at him wildly and moved restlessly in his chair. ‘Why is it such a waste of time? If we could get one of their ion cannons…’

‘They won’t give us one, Daniel.’ Jack said confidently. ‘They like their technological superiority over us too much.’ He inwardly winced at the harsh words. He believed it but he would never have stated it so baldly, or without it being tempered by his knowledge that the Tollan aversion to giving less advanced worlds their technology was well-founded, since the last world where they had done so had self-destructed as a result.

‘Should we still not make the attempt, O’Neill?’ Teal’c interjected. ‘Is it not our mission to try and gain these technologies to assist in the fight against the Goa’uld?’

‘I’m just saying they’re not going to give us them, Teal’c.’ Jack responded. He frowned suddenly as he realised Sam had been unusually quiet beside him. He turned to her curiously. She was looking back towards the Stargate with a strange expression. ‘You want to jump in here, Carter?’

Sam started as though her attention had been elsewhere but was saved from having to reply as Hammond opened the office door and swiftly crossed to the table. Jack followed Sam as she rose to her feet and sat down once the General was seated.

‘Welcome back,’ Hammond said with a brief nod, ‘SG9 have informed us that the Edorans have agreed to the terms of our treaty and are ready to sign. We’ll help them with their rebuilding, exchange medicine and farming technology while they allow us to extract the naquadah.’

‘That’s excellent news, sir.’ Jack commented sincerely.

‘The Edorans have invited you all back for the signing.’ Hammond said. ‘In fact, they’ve insisted upon it. They want to thank you all for your efforts in helping to save their community. I understand there’s to be some kind of celebration…’

‘Uh, sir, I have a ton of work to do to prepare for…’ Daniel began.

‘This takes priority, Doctor Jackson. The sooner we can start extracting the naquadah, the sooner we will be able to get the naquadah generators functional.’ Hammond replied. ‘There’s still plenty of time before the Tollan petition.’ He glanced around the table. ‘You ship out in one hour. Dismissed.’ He stood up and gestured at Jack. ‘I need to speak with you in my office, Colonel.’

‘Yes, sir.’ Jack followed the General into the room and closed the door. He watched as his team filed out of the briefing room before he turned to the General.

Hammond sat down in the leather chair and regarded Jack with sympathy. ‘How was your time away?’

‘Frustrating.’ Jack said honestly. ‘I take it the Tollan went for the plan?’

‘They’re very happy to play along.’ Hammond confirmed. He pushed a folder across the desk.

Jack picked it up and started memorising the contents. ‘They want me to steal one of their weapon deactivators?’

‘They’ll disable the usual security measures to enable you to take it and the specific device in question will be completely useless.’ Hammond said. ‘I assured them that was fine with us.’

‘Sweet.’ Jack muttered.

Hammond’s expression softened. ‘We should work out a game plan for what happens on your return but that will wait until you return from Edora.’ He waved at Jack. ‘Perhaps your visit will give you the opportunity to confirm there are no other…consequences from your time there that may complicate matters.’

Jack shrugged uncomfortable with the discussion. ‘Yes, sir.’ He dropped the file back on Hammond’s desk. ‘I’ll inform Thor of the plan before I leave for Edora.’

‘Good.’ Hammond smiled at him. ‘I’ll see you at the departure time.’

Jack heard the dismissal and nodded. He made his communication to Thor before he joined the others for the pre-mission checks in the infirmary. He watched as Janet finished with Sam, his eyes following the Major as she made her way out.

Janet made her way over to him and Jack waited until the tests were done and the room had emptied before he asked his question. He cleared his throat to gain Janet’s attention. ‘How’s Carter?’

‘She’s fine, sir.’ Janet replied.

‘You want to give me a little bit more information here, Doc? I am her CO and we are about to head out on a mission. I need to know she’s up to it.’ Jack pointed out, his concern for Sam creating a certain brusqueness that saw Janet stiffening in response.

‘I wouldn’t have cleared her for duty otherwise, sir.’ Janet retorted.

Jack acknowledged the rebuke although he kept his brown eyes on hers. ‘Daniel said she’d collapsed.’

‘She did.’ Janet allowed. ‘But that was a couple of months ago, sir, and she’s made a good recovery.’

Jack nodded. ‘OK.’

‘She is still adjusting, sir.’ Janet said, seeing his lingering concern. ‘In many ways, she experienced just as much change during the last few months as you did. Her usual way of life ceased to exist as soon as she started work on the generator and returning to normal is another change that she has to deal with.’

Jack nodded again. It explained Sam’s distraction in the briefing. ‘Thanks, Doc.’

He headed for the gear-up room and joined the others, quickly catching up to them. They changed in silence and Jack did nothing to relieve the subtle tension that had permeated the small group. It was a far cry from the banter and good-humoured debates they usually exchanged. He led them to the gate room and through the wormhole to Edora with a brisk efficiency that he could see surprised them.

They stepped out, not onto the barren wasteland of the meteor impact zone but into a luscious green field.

‘Woah.’ Jack muttered in surprise.

‘They shifted the gate two days ago, sir.’ Sam told him quietly.

‘No kidding.’ Jack murmured.

She looked away from him and he regretted his short reply. He opened his mouth to apologise and was interrupted as the Edoran greeting party surged forward.

Garen gave him an enthusiastic hug. ‘It’s good to see you again, Jack.’

‘Where’s your mother?’ Jack asked, looking around for Laira and absently noting that Daniel and Teal’c were being greeted warmly by villagers he didn’t recognise; they must have been amongst the stranded on Earth, Jack surmised. His eyes landed on Sam, standing a little to the side and looking lost. He missed the way Garan’s face brightened with approval at his question.

‘She’s waiting back at the village along with the members of your SG9 team.’ Garan noted.

‘Lead on.’ Jack gestured at Garan and fell into step beside him. He let the Edoran boy inform him of all the changes that had happened in the short week since the community had been reunited.

Jack listened with half an ear; his attention mostly on Sam who was looking like she was about to face an execution squad than take part in a celebration. She was also walking slightly apart from the main group that surrounded Daniel and Teal’c. It suddenly occurred to him that Sam wouldn’t necessarily know the villagers; she had been hard at work creating the solution that had allowed them to go home while Daniel and Teal’c had taken the liaison work. He made some excuse to Garan and dropped back to Sam’s side for a moment.

‘You OK, Carter?’

Sam looked at him as though surprised he had spoken to her. ‘Yes, sir. I’m fine.’

‘They picked a great spot for the gate, don’t ya think?’ Jack said, unable to resist the urge to cheer her up.

‘It was Sam’s idea.’ Daniel said, catching up with them.

Jack was unsurprised to feel Teal’c fall in next to him a moment later. ‘Of course it was.’ Jack said out loud.

Sam kept her eyes on the path. ‘I didn’t think the Edorans would want to be reminded of the disaster every time they visited the gate, sir.’

‘Good thinking, Carter.’ Jack said sincerely. She glanced at him and smiled. Jack felt his mood brighten and it was though a collective sigh of relief ran through the team.

One day, he thought; he’d give himself one day with his team before he distanced himself again to bring down the rogue operation. ‘So, do you think they’re going to have cake at this shindig?’ He asked.

‘You’ve probably spent the most time with the Edorans,’ Daniel pointed out, ‘do they have cake at celebrations?’

Jack cast his mind back to the few parties he’d attended. ‘No.’ He remembered with disappointment. ‘No cake.’ He sighed. ‘We should have brought cake.’

They all smiled.

‘They do make a great moonshine.’ Jack remembered fondly.

‘Really?’ Daniel said. ‘How do they make it?’

‘I don’t know.’ Jack admitted. ‘I just drank the stuff. I didn’t ask how it had been made.’

‘That’s so you.’ Daniel said without heat.

Jack sighed. ‘Yeah. I missed you too, Daniel.’ His brown eyes smiled warmly at the archaeologist who smiled back at him.

They were entering the village and their conversation halted as they were besieged by people. Hugs and handshakes were exchanged and the team quickly got separated. Jack watched concerned as Sam stepped away from the crowd and headed for Captain Calloway who was working on what looked like a newly rebuilt village hall in the centre of the village. He felt a pat on his shoulder and turned reluctantly; his eyes landed on Laira.

‘Fair day, Jack.’ Laira smiled warmly at him.

‘Laira.’ Jack moved forward and hugged her gently, before stepping away. ‘It’s good to see you.’

‘It is good to be seen.’ She said lightly. ‘You look well.’

‘You too.’ His gaze ran over her trim figure and smiling face before he turned away and gestured at the new structures that had gone up. ‘I like what you’ve done with the place.’

‘Your people have been of great assistance in helping us rebuild.’ Laira noted.

Jack’s eyes strayed back to Sam who was looking over a building plan with Calloway. ‘I should go check in with them.’ He said gently.

‘Of course.’

He caught the hint of disappointment in her hazel eyes. ‘We’ll talk later?’

She nodded and managed a smile.

The day seemed to pass in a blur to Jack as he and the others caught up with the SG teams assisting the Edorans. He made a point of introducing his team to the villagers he knew from his time on Edora and he noticed it didn’t take long before Daniel clued in and started to introduce him and Sam to the villagers who had been stranded on Earth.

The signing of the treaty went without a hitch and it wasn’t long before the team found themselves installed in the hall as guests of honour at the promised celebration. Jack hid his discomfort when he found himself seated next to Laira. More match-making, he mused. She smiled apologetically at him and he was relieved when she turned to Daniel on her other side and began a discussion on the medical aspects of the treaty. It was toward the end of the meal that Jagan, an older councillor, stood up and the discussions ceased.

‘It falls upon me,’ Jagan said loudly, ‘to say a few words to mark this occasion.’ He smiled broadly, his round face beaming. ‘Firstly, we are pleased to share this moment of friendship between our two worlds with the people who saved many of us from certain death from the recent fire-rain.’

Laira smiled widely at Jack who ducked his head, uncomfortable.

‘Who helped us rebuild here when they were apart from their own kind.’ Jagan motioned with a goblet at Jack.

Jack moved restlessly in his chair as the room turned to look at him. He had done nothing but tried to survive.

‘And who worked tirelessly to reunite us with our kin.’ Jagan’s arm swept over the rest of SG1. ‘We do not understand how it was done.’ He smiled at them benevolently. ‘Only that it was and for that you have our thanks and our friendship.’ He raised his goblet. ‘To friendship.’

Everyone raised their glasses. ‘To friendship.’

Jagan gestured at Jack who looked back at him startled. Daniel leaned across the table. ‘I think it’s your turn.’

‘No-one mentioned that I had to make a speech.’ Jack hissed.

Laira gave a small laugh and Jack glanced to his other side where Sam was smiling just as amused at Jack’s horror as the Edoran woman. He stood up.

‘I, uh, don’t really have anything prepared here.’ Jack said awkwardly. ‘We owe a few thanks too.’ He turned to Laira. ‘To those who welcomed us and who offered friendship during my stay here.’

Laira blushed under his warm regard.

Jack turned away from her to look out into the room. ‘And to those who followed my team to Earth and had faith they would bring them home to Edora. Uh, to friendship.’

There was another echo and another sip from the goblets before the music began again and conversation resumed.

Laira placed a hand on Jack’s arm. ‘Walk with me.’

Jack swallowed his gulp of wine around a sudden lump in his throat and nodded, unsure how he could refuse her. He pushed his chair back and followed her from the room.

They walked from the village down the path to the riverbank in silence.

Laira looked up at the clear sky, dotted with stars and the moons shining brightly. ‘It is a beautiful night.’

‘Yes. It is.’ Jack commented, slightly apprehensive. He had no idea what he was going to say; he had no wish to hurt her but he knew it wasn’t fair to either of them to continue any kind of relationship. He had decided if there was a child, he would approach that as a separate issue.

‘I wanted to tell you in private; there is no baby.’ Laira said bluntly.

Jack stared at her. ‘I thought it would be too soon to tell.’

‘If I were pregnant, perhaps.’ Laira admitted. ‘But I’m not. My time came as usual.’ She looked down in embarrassment as Jack looked at her in bemusement before his brain made the connection.

‘Oh.’ Jack suddenly got it; Laira had her period ergo no baby. He couldn’t help the strong wave of relief that coursed through him nor the small twinge of regret. ‘I’m sorry. I know how much you wanted a child.’

‘With you.’ Laira corrected him. ‘I wanted a baby with you, Jack.’ She walked a couple of paces away from him. ‘I had hoped that when you returned to your planet you would miss us enough to want to return here.’ She said softly. ‘But I see now that was a foolish thought.’

‘Laira.’ Jack sighed. ‘I don’t know what to say to you.’ He admitted.

‘You can’t pretend something you don’t feel.’ Laira said sadly.

‘I care about you.’ Jack insisted.

‘But you love another.’ Laira smiled at the shock on his face and looked away from him again, staring into the sky. ‘Your eyes haven’t strayed from Major Carter all day.’ She sighed. ‘I don’t know how I missed it before. I think I didn’t see because I didn’t wish to see.’

Jack pressed his lips together and shifted his weight uncertainly. ‘It’s not what you think. I’m not with her.’

She turned back to him swiftly. ‘Because of what happened with us? I could speak with her, explain…’

‘Not exactly.’ Jack gestured at her. ‘She…I…’ he pulled a face, frustrated at his inarticulation. ‘She doesn’t feel the same way.’

Laira looked at him as though he was as dense as he sometimes pretended to be. ‘Those of my people who were on your planet say she worked a miracle to bring you back to her, Jack. That sounds like a woman who loves you.’

‘She cares for me.’ Jack said. ‘Just…not that way. As a friend.’

‘I hope not. If you cannot be here with me…’ Laira reached out and grasped his hand. ‘I would wish happiness for you, Jack.’

‘Well, I wish happiness for you too.’ Jack said softly.

‘You will be leaving soon.’ She let go of him and moved back toward the path. ‘We should return.’

Jack acquiesced and let her lead the way back, his mind turned her words incessantly. Was it possible she right? Did Sam feel the same way about him as he did about her? No. He shook his head. Sam cared about him; he knew that, but as a team-mate, a friend even. She couldn’t love love him…could she? He dismissed it; Laira had got it wrong, Jack thought forcefully.

He spotted Teal’c outside the hall and Jack said goodbye to Laira before he headed over to greet his friend.

‘Hey.’ Jack motioned at him. ‘Why are you outside?’

‘I am waiting for Major Carter to return.’ Teal’c informed him crisply.

Jack’s eyebrows rose. ‘To return?’ He parroted.

‘She wished to view the night sky from the location where we witnessed the fire-rain.’ Teal’c said. ‘I offered to accompany her but she refused.’

‘You should have gone anyway.’ Jack snapped.

Teal’c’s eyebrow rose. ‘Do you not believe this to be a safe place, O’Neill?’

‘That’s not the point.’ Jack said. He waved his hands at Teal’c and sighed. ‘I’ll go and get her.’

‘A wise decision.’ Teal’c murmured.

Jack shot him a look and wondered just who had been rebuked. ‘Just…make sure Daniel doesn’t wander off.’ He walked away, his long strides easily eating up the distance to the look-out point where they had first seen the fire-rain. He halted a few feet from her.

Sam sat on the ground; her knees pulled up to her chest and her arms wrapped around her legs; her hands clasped tightly together. Her gun lay beside her. Her blonde head was tilted upwards to the sky. She looked incredibly miserable and Jack’s initial desire to ream her out for wandering off on her own dissipated rapidly. He cleared his throat to alert her to his presence.

‘Sir.’ Sam made to get up and he waved her back down, taking a seat next to her.

They watched the sky in silence for a long moment.

Sam glanced at him briefly and wondered why he was with her and not Laira. She wondered at the status of his relationship with the other woman and pushed the thought away, annoyed. It was none of her business. She had to stop her personal feelings from influencing her or she would have to confirm to the General she needed the transfer despite the decision she had made while she had been on vacation to stay on SG1.

It had been difficult but she had concluded that she already cared more than the regs allowed about all her team-mates and had done for a long while so things hadn’t really changed because she knew she loved Jack instead of thinking it was a crush. Still, she was questioning whether she could really do it and it suddenly occurred to Sam that the Colonel could well be the one person who could help her. ‘How do you do it, sir?’ She asked suddenly.

‘Do what?’ Jack asked, wondering what she meant.

‘Stay detached enough from the team to make the right decisions when we’re so close.’ Sam expanded as she turned to look at him.

‘Ah.’ Jack grimaced. ‘That.’ He tugged on his boot lace absently and regarded her thoughtfully. He guessed he had found the reason why she had been so distracted.

‘It’s just…this whole thing has made me realise just how close we, I mean, all of us in SG1, are,’ Sam hurried out, ‘and I’m not sure I can…if it came down to it, decide who lives and who dies.’

‘You’ll do it.’ Jack said confidently.

‘How do you know?’ Sam asked, wondering at his surety.

He kept his brown eyes steady on hers. ‘Because you’re one of the most outstanding officers I’ve served with, Carter. You’ll make the right decision, just like you made the right decision this time.’

She dropped her gaze and stared at the ground. ‘I thought you would be angry that I…we left you behind.’

Like he had been with Frank Cromwell, Jack realised. ‘You didn’t have a choice.’ He pointed out. ‘I understood that and I would have made the same call.’

‘Would you be able to make it again knowing the consequences?’ Sam asked him bluntly. ‘Knowing you might be condemning one of your…team-mates, a friend, to living out their lives on another planet?’

‘I don’t know, Carter.’ Jack admitted. ‘You just have to try and make the best decision at the time and live with it, good or bad. That’s the only thing you can do.’

‘It’s not easy, sir.’ Sam said softly, thinking of all the moments in the months he had been stranded where she had second guessed her decision to leave him; not to follow after him when he didn’t make radio contact.

Jack made a face. ‘No. It’s not easy.’ He admitted, thinking of his secret mission to uncover the rogue operation. There would be consequences to keep his team out of it and safe; consequences that might mean he would lose their friendship and trust forever. It was a hell of a gamble he was taking; a hell of a gamble Hammond was taking with the team. He dragged his mind back to the conversation and sighed.

‘And sometimes when a team is as close as we are, you’ll fail. You won’t make the right decisions and you have to live with the consequences of that too.’ He confessed.

‘Sir?’ Sam looked at him surprised.

‘Tactically, I should have sent Teal’c with Laira.’ Jack stated quietly. ‘He’s faster, he knew where the caves were, and if the kids were injured, he’s strong enough to have carried them to the gate. But I went because I knew there was a risk we wouldn’t get back and I didn’t want Teal’c or any of you getting injured during the bombardment.’ He held her gaze. ‘So, you see, it was my fault I got stranded.’

Sam assimilated his confession quietly; he had made the decision for personal reasons just not the one she had thought. The jealousy in her eased a little. ‘Did you regret it?’

‘Sometimes,’ Jack admitted, ‘but other times I would think that at least it was me and not Teal’c.’

‘I could live with that.’ Sam commented. Risk herself or risk her team-mate…that was an easy decision, she mused.

‘Me too.’ Jack said. ‘But I know there’s a harder decision out there that’s going to bite me in the ass one day.’ He gestured at her. ‘If Daniel was compromised threatening the base – threatening one of you, could I shoot him, kill him? Could you?’

Sam opened her mouth to reply and closed it again. She gave a shaky laugh. ‘I don’t know.’

‘Neither do I.’ Jack said simply. ‘I guess none of us do until we face it.’ He gestured at her. ‘The fact is that in any other command our team would have been disbanded by now; we’re too close but…’ he shrugged, ‘it works; we work as a team and if that gives us, gives Earth, a better chance against the Goa’uld…’ he shrugged again. ‘I can live with knowing I may need to make that decision somewhere down the line and try to make decisions I can live with in the meantime.’

Sam nodded slowly; she could live with it too, she decided. She loved him, and she cared about Daniel and Teal’c too much too, but if it meant staying on SG1 and giving Earth a better chance against the Goa’uld, she could live with knowing one day she might have to make that hard decision herself. She returned her gaze to the sky.

‘So, I take it this was the reason why you broke protocol and wandered off alone?’ Jack asked lightly after a moment.

She gave a small grimace. ‘About that, sir.’

He waved a hand, dismissing her apology. ‘Don’t worry about it, Carter.’

‘I’m still sorry, sir. Everyone was thanking me,’ she explained, ‘and I…uh…’ she shrugged, ‘I just felt awkward.’

Jack looked over at her astounded. ‘Why? You deserve it. You got everyone home.’

‘I didn’t do it for everyone, I did it for…’ she spoke unthinkingly, her guard lowered after their discussion and she broke off abruptly as she realised what she was confessing.

Sam looked away and Jack noted absently that she looked as shocked as he felt at her almost admission. Suddenly the truth of it hit him like a punch to the gut and left him breathless. She’d done it for him. Built a machine that others said couldn’t be built for him. Worked herself to exhaustion to bring him home to her. Daniel and Teal’c had tried to tell him, he realised, the conversation with his team-mates running through his head, but he hadn’t listened. Laira had told him and he hadn’t listened.

That sounds like a woman who loves you.’

Suddenly, Jack dared to believe that Sam might love him back.

He looked at her tentatively, unsure what he did next – if he did anything next. Knowing Sam might have feelings for him and doing something about it…there were the regs. If Sam did care for him and he pursued it…there was her career to consider. She had obviously no intention of leaving the team given their conversation so no intention of pursuing how she felt, and he had no idea if her decision would change if she knew how he felt – if she had any idea how he felt. She probably didn’t. She probably thought he was with Laira…

He sighed inwardly. He couldn’t do anything, he realised with deep regret. The undercover op took priority and there was every chance he would destroy whatever she had started to feel for him with what he was about to do. But, maybe there was something he could do, he thought determinedly; he cleared his throat. ‘Will you feel awkward if I say thank you?’ Jack saw the flash of her smile in the darkness at his light-hearted question. ‘Because I don’t think I’ve said it yet so…’ he nudged her knee with his, ‘thank you, Sam.’

She finally turned back to him and they shared another look, heavy with the unspoken feelings they each felt for the other. She was the first to look away, staring back into the night sky at the stars that shone brightly.

‘You know,’ Jack said softly, ‘I used to wonder which way was home. I couldn’t figure it out.’

Sam pointed toward the East. ‘Earth is that way.’

‘Second star on the left?’ Jack quipped. ‘Click your heels three times and follow the yellow brick road?’

She smiled again. ‘Something like that, sir.’

Jack felt the weight of his undercover work descend fully on his shoulders and sighed. His one day of respite was up; he had a mission to plan and execute. He just hoped he had a team to welcome him back again at the end of it; that she would welcome him back again.

He nudged Sam gently. ‘Come on, Carter. Let’s get Daniel and Teal’c.’ He gestured in the direction she had pointed. ‘Let’s go home.’

fin.
 

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